India and Russia show two sides of Wimax debate

Caroline Gabriel/Rethink Wireless
27 May 2010
The next few weeks will be important ones for the Wimax community, as the Indian auction of 2.3GHz spectrum gets underway. Among the bidders for one of two national BWA licenses (excluding one reserved for the state telcos) is a group led by Qualcomm, which hopes to support TD-LTE and stop India being a home run for Wimax mobile broadband.
There is still a strong likelihood that all three BWA license winners will end up using Wimax, especially because they will be under huge pressure to build out their networks rapidly to address India's huge lack of broadband capacity - and no commercial TD-LTE equipment yet exists, except for specialized kit for China Mobile's show network at Shanghai World Expo.
However, Qualcomm's move has intensified the debate over which technology will prevail in unpaired TDD spectrum round the world. Bad timing, then, for Russian Wimax operator Yota to announce it would use LTE for future build-outs, and eventually overlay its current Wimax systems in Moscow, St Petersburg and three other cities, which support about 500,000 users. "The only reasons we are delaying its launch everywhere is the fact that LTE technology is so new," the company told Reuters in an email.
Clearwire has also been rumored to be considering a switch to LTE, though it has been very clear this would not happen until 2012 at the earliest, if at all. It has a far larger network to convert than Yota and would risk losing its valuable 4G headstart over Verizon Wireless and AT&T, should it change technology direction. The main reason would be if it saw TD-LTE gaining a broader vendor and carrier ecosystem in future, promoting superior economics, but despite the hype, that is not a foregone conclusion at all in these early days.
One factor in boosting or diluting confidence in the future of the TD-LTE platform will certainly be its success or failure in India, one of the largest markets for wireless broadband. The auction is likely to drag on for at least two weeks. Day one of bidding ended at INR25.53bn ($501.76m), with the government expecting to raise INR150bn. The just-ended 3G auction delivered more than twice the anticipated revenues and the BWA bidders have already gone about 34% over the reserve price of INR17.5bn.


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